Have you hit a fitness plateau? Here’s a hint: Your cardiovascular and strength training routine may have paid off big time initially, resulting in shedding a few pounds, increased energy and more-defined muscles. But lately, you’re just not seeing much payoff for all of your sweat and hard work. Sound familiar?
Kelvin Gary, a New York City-based certified personal trainer and owner of Body Space Fitness, says that people often hit a plateau because they fail to change up their workout routine. “Eventually, your body will adapt to the demands you place on it,” says Gary. “If you don’t change the demands, your body will stop adapting—and you won’t see results.”
Making the right adjustments to your workout could increase your lean muscle mass and boost your metabolism, according to Jennifer McCamish, a certified personal trainer and owner of Dancers Shape in Austin. “Those are the biggest benefits you’ll reap if you make some changes and stick with them,” she says.
For example, you can surprise your muscles by doing your cardio workout first if you normally start with resistance training or vice versa, suggests Fredina Usher-Weems, manager of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Lifestyle Medicine Fitness Program. Decreasing your rest period between strength training sets from 45 seconds to 30 seconds and eventually not taking a break at all can also help you see improved fitness results.
Ready to jumpstart your workout and start seeing impressive results again? Make these 10 simple exercise tweaks—endorsed by the pros.
Take a dumbbell of your choice and do a bicep curl, followed by a shoulder press, a squat followed by a bicep curl or a lunge, followed by a shoulder press. Gary says that combining moves in this way gives you 30 to 40 different exercise options. “These multi-joint movements work several muscles at once and can improve joint stability, decrease the risk of injury and keep your heart rate elevated for cardiovascular benefits,” he says.
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Change your foot position
Changing your foot position instantly makes any exercise harder, according to Gary. For example, the wider your stance in a squat position, the easier the exercise. Place your feet together to make squats more difficult, or try squatting on one leg at a time. You can make arm exercises more difficult by standing in a lunge position, rather than with your feet side by side, adds Gary.
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Add a calf raise to a squat
Exercises that incorporate what’s called triple extensions allow you to extend your hips using your glutes and hamstrings, extend your knees using your quads, and flex your ankles using your calves, according to Gary. “In addition to giving your calves more attention and building muscle, you more closely replicate what you do when you run, jump or ride a bike,” he says.
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Change the tempo
For cardio, add a sprint somewhere in your routine. Exercising in quick spurts can pay off. A University of Western Ontario study found that people who ran four to six 30-second sprints reaped the same fat-burning, muscle-building benefits as those who logged a 30- to 60-minute endurance workout.
For strength training, instead of doing bicep curls with a 1-up, 1-down count, try counting 3-2-1 up and 1-down or 1-2 up and 3-2-1 down. You can apply the same principle to push-ups, squats and lunges. Picking up or slowing down the pace improves your cardiovascular health and could result in more muscle definition, says McCamish.
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Add resistance to your ab workout
“Placing an object between your knees or simply holding your knees together during an ab exercise really engages the muscles in your lower belly,” McCamish says. “You’ll see improved definition in your lower abdominal area.” For extra resistance, try squeezing a towel or small playground ball between your knees, holding the contraction while you perform the ab exercise.
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Move to a less-stable surface
McCamish suggests moving from the floor to a squishy mat and striking any one-legged yoga pose. “The instability of the softer surface causes you to engage your core, strengthening your abdomen,” she says. Another tweak: Use a large, inflatable stability ball. Get into push-up position by placing your legs on top of the ball and your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Simply balance or do push-ups. For more of a challenge, roll the ball in and out with your legs, maintaining a flat back in the push-up position and working those core muscles.
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In cardio exercise, if you’re accustomed to running on a treadmill at a speed of five, try decreasing your speed to four and increasing the incline on the machine. Run at a speed of four for one minute and then walk for 30 seconds. Keep running at these intervals until you’ve completed your workout. Interval training improves your speed and stamina, notes Usher-Weems.
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Change the position of your weights
This tweak can be applied to several exercises, but try it first with an overhead press. Using the weight of your choice, instead of positioning your arms shoulder-width apart, narrow them, keeping your elbows glued next to your rib cage as you lower the weights and press up. By placing the weights in this modified position, you’ll feel the contraction more in your triceps and less in your chest. “Tweaking your weight placement allows you to focus on and tone different muscle groups,” says Usher-Weems.
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Modify your push-up
Change up the traditional military push-up by adding a little elevation. Get in plank position, but instead of putting your feet on the floor, place them on a 6- or 8-inch-high step or a stability ball. As you perform the push-ups, you’ll feel the contraction in the shoulders more than the chest. Says Usher-Weems: “This is another way to work additional muscle parts, to cross-train and to build strength.”
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Increase repetitions and weight
Change the number of repetitions and the amount of weight you use. For example, try taking your workout routine from 10 reps of 10 pounds to five reps of 15 pounds. “By increasing the amount of weight you use and decreasing your reps, you should see increased muscle size and strength,” notes Usher-Weems.
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